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THE VISION SPLENDID (18)

2006-08-28 22:51

    THE PILLARS OF SOCIETY ARE GIVEN AN ILLUSTRATION OF A ROORBACK

    Rawson sat in the rotunda of the Pacific Hotel in desultory conversation with Captain Chunn, Hardy and Rogers. He brought his clenched hand down on the padded leather arm of the big chair.

    "They'll jam it through to-morrow. That's what they'll do. James K. Farnum's been playing mighty pretty politics and he has got the votes to deliver the goods."

    Hardy nodded as he knocked the ash from his cigar. "Now that it's all over we can see James K.'s trail easily enough. He meant to defeat the initiative and referendum amendment, and he meant to do it without losing his popularity. He's done it too. Jeff's disappearance made it certain our bill wouldn't go through. James jumps in with a hurrah and passes one that isn't worth the powder to blow it up. But he's going to claim it as a great victory for the people——and if I know that young man he'll get away with his bluff. Yet it's certain as taxes that he's been working for Joe Powers all the time."

    "I wouldn't put it past him to have engineered some deal to get rid of his cousin," Chunn suggested.

    Rawson shook his head. "No. Not respectable enough for James. And he's not fool enough to run his head into a trap. But I'd bet my head Big Tim gave him a tip it was to be pulled off. J. K. had to know. Otherwise he wouldn't have been in a position to play the game for them. But he didn't know any details——just a suggestion. Enough to wise him without making him responsible."

    "And the play he's been making in the papers. Offering a reward for information about Jeff, insisting publicly that he has absolute confidence in his cousin's integrity while he shakes his head in private. If you want my opinion, that young man is a whited sepulchre. I never did believe in him."

    Rogers turned to Captain Chunn with an incredulous smile. "But you still believe in Jeff. Frankly, it looks to me like a double sell out."

    The old Confederate's eyes gleamed. "Sir, I've known that boy since he was a little tad. He's never told me a lie. He's square as they make them."

    "I used to believe in his cousin James, too," Rogers commented.

    "Oh, James! He's another proposition." Rawson's voice was sour with disgust. "He just naturally looked to see where his bread was buttered. He's as selfish as the devil for all that suave, cordial way of his. Right from the first his idea has been to make a big personal hit. And he figured out he could do it easier with Joe Powers back of him than against him. James K. is the smoothest fraud on the Pacific Coast. But Jeff——why, every hair of his head is straight. He's one out of a million, believe me."

    "You've said it," Chunn agreed.

    Rogers smiled across at them. "He's left a lot of good friends behind him anyhow. But it's strange he could drop off the earth without a soul knowing about it."

    "The men who murdered him know about it," Rawson answered significantly.

    Captain Chunn shook his head. "No, that boy will turn up yet."

    "But not in time to save us. We're licked. There's not one chance in a million for us. That's the discouraging feature of it, to be sold out after we had won our fight."

    Rawson agreed with Hardy. "Yes, we're licked. Even if Jeff were to show up, with all these stories against him, we wouldn't be able to stem the tide now."

    "Mister Raw-w-son——Mister Raw-w-son." The singsong voice of a bellhop echoed through the rotunda.

    Captain Chunn's walking stick flagged the lad and brought him sliding across the polished floor.

    "Telegram for Mr. Rawson."

    The big politician ripped it open and ran his eyes rapidly over the yellow slip. From his lips burst a sudden oath of surprise.

    "By Jupiter, the miracle's happened. Jeff is alive and on his way here. He's sent me a wireless from out at sea somewhere."

    "What!" Captain Chunn let out a whoop of joy.

    "Listen here." Rawson read aloud his message. "'Shanghaied on schooner _Nancy Hanks_ . Escaped at Honolulu. Back in Verden to-night. Keep up the fight.'"

    "Didn't I say Jeff was alive? Didn't I say he would come back and beat those robbers yet?" the owner of the _World_ demanded.

    "Don't get excited. It may be a fake." This from Hardy, who was almost as much moved himself.

    "Fake nothing! We'll go down to the telegraph office and make sure it's

    。 K. Won't this make a bully story for the _World_ 'Shanghaied' in big letters across the top, and underneath a red hot roast of the old city hall gang's methods of trying to defeat the will of the people." Rawson laughed aloud as his imagination pictured the story. The old soldier's eyes gleamed. "I'll run twice as many copies as usual. We'll plaster the state with them, calling for mass meetings everywhere to insist on the legislature passing our bill."

    "Go easy, gentlemen," advised Rogers. "If it's true we hold a trump card, but we want to play it mighty carefully so as to make it carry as much dynamite as possible."

    The company could give no information more definite than that the message had come from the _Bellingham,_ which was still a couple of hundred miles out at sea.

    In view of the value of the news from a strategic slant his friends succeeded in keeping the lid on Captain Chunn's enthusiasm until the party was safe aboard a fast yacht steaming out of the harbor to meet the _Bellingham._ The old Confederate's first impulse had been to run an extra immediately, but he was argued out of it.

    "We don't want to go off half cocked. We've got a beautiful comeback if we play it right. That is, if Jeff's got any proof. But we better wait and let Jeff run the newspaper end of it, Captain."

    This was Hardy's view, and it was indorsed by the others. "Another thing. This story has got to come just like an explosion on James K. Farnum's supporters. We've got to sweep them right back to our bill. Now if we break the force of it by giving them warning that swarm of lobbyists will get busy and stay busy all night," Rawson added.

    Jim Dunn, the star reporter of the _World,_ was hurriedly summoned by telephone. Chunn explained to the city editor that Dunn and the staff photographer were needed to cover a big story, but of what the story was no mention was made to the office. As soon as Dunn and Quillen reached the wharf the _Fly by Night_ shot out of the dock.

    In the wintry afternoon sunlight Beauchamp and Alice were playing a match of shuffleboard against Jeff and the daughter of a Honolulu missionary. The game had reached an exciting and critical stage when they noticed that the ship was no longer quivering from the throb of the engines.

    "A steam yacht, probably from Verden," the ship purser remarked to the first mate as they passed.

    The players gave up their game to watch the boat that was being lowered from the deck of a yacht close at hand. Into it stepped five men in addition to the crew. Presently Jeff, leaning against the rail, borrowed the glasses of a man near. After Alice had looked she handed them to Farnum.

    He gave a little exclamation of surprise.

    "I beg your pardon?" the girl beside him murmured.

    "They are my friends, Miss Frome. Come to meet me, I expect. The little man in gray with one arm is Captain Chunn."

    She was all excitement at once. "Then they must have received your message?"

    "Probably."

    Jeff was the first man to meet Captain Chunn as he walked up the steps. The gray little man gave a whoop of joy.

    "David!"

    Their hands gripped.

    Rawson fell on Farnum from behind and pounded him jubilantly. Instantly the editor was the center of a group of eager, urgent wellwishers.

    Alice explained to Captain Barclay what it was all about and stood back smiling while questions and answers flew back and forth.

    "What about our bill?" Jeff inquired as soon as the first hubbub had quieted.

    "Dead as a door nail. Your cousin has substituted H. B. I. They will pass it to-morrow or the next day."

    A swift sickness ran through Farnum. "James gone back on us?"

    "That's what. He's double-crossed us." Rawson snapped the words out bitterly.

    "Why——why——surely not James." Jeff's mind groped for some possible

    explanation.

    "Says our bill was lost anyhow and it was a question of getting through Garman's bill or none."

    "But Garman's bill was framed by Ned Merrill. It doesn't give us anything."

    Rawson nodded grimly. "That's the idea. We're to get nothing, but it's to be wrapped up like a Christmas present so as to fool us."

    "And isn't there any chance at all for our bill?"

    "Just this one chance." Rawson leaned forward and spoke in a low voice, driving his hand down on the deck railing. "That you've got a charge of dynamite up your sleeve to throw into their camp. If you can't stampede them we're down and out."

    Jeff and his allies presently moved away together to hold a conference of ways and means. The boat crew pulled back to the yacht. The engines began to throb once more. The _Bellingham_ gathered momentum and was soon plunging forward at full speed.

    With a queer little surge of pride in him Alice watched Jeff and his friends move away. They depended on him. Unless he could save it their fight was lost. To her he was a prophet of the better civilization that would some day rise on the ruins of an Individualism grown topheavy. But he was neither a dreamer nor a weakling. His idealism was sane and practical, and he would fight to the last ditch when he must.

    And this was another strange thing about him, that though his democracy was a faith, vital and ardent, it was tempered with the liberal spirit. He could make allowances; held no grudges, would laugh away insults at which another man would have raged. Out of her very limited experience Alice decided that he was a great man. That he was so warm and human with it all was one of his seizing charms. No boy could have been more interested in winning the shuffleboard game than he.

    The fat pork packer from Chicago came wheezing toward her. He took the steamer chair beside Alice and jerked his head toward the spot where Jeff had disappeared.

    "Now if you want my notion, Miss Frome, that's the kind of a man that breeds anarchy. I've seen his paper. He fills it full of stuff that makes the workingman discontented with his lot. A trouble maker, that's what he is. Stops the wheels of industry. Gets in the road of the boosters to croak hard times."

    Alice observed the thick rolls of purple fat that bulged over his collar.

    "Progress now," he went on. "I'm for progress. Develop the country. That gives work to the laborers and keeps them contented. But men like Farnum are always hampering development by annoying capital. Now that's foolish because capital employs labor."

    The young woman suggested another possibility. "Or else labor employs capital."

    "What!" The fat little man sat bolt upright in surprise. "I guess you never heard your Uncle Joe Powers talk any such foolishness." He snorted indignantly. "Hmp! The best friend labor has got is capital. If I had the say so I'd crush every labor union——for the good of the working people themselves."

    Alice decided that the mental indigestion of the rich sat heavily upon him. She felt her temper rising and took advantage of the approach of Beauchamp to leave quickly.

    "Oh, Lieutenant! Have you seen Valencia?"

    The Englishman showed surprise. It happened that Alice had at that moment a view of Mrs. Van Tyle stretched on a deck chair some thirty feet away.

    Miss Frome hurried him along. Presently, with a low laugh, she explained. "I wanted to get away from him. Carelessly, I dropped a new idea there. It's likely to go off. You know how dangerous they are." "To people who haven't many. Had it anything to do with making

    money?" "Not directly." "Then you needn't be alarmed on our stout friend's account. He's

    immune to all ideas not connected with that subject." The double blast of a trumpet invited them to dinner down stairs.

    Dunn was sitting in the smoking room writing his story of the

    kidnapping when a ruddy young Englishman stopped opposite him. "You're Mr. Dunn, are you not? Reporter for the _World?_" "Yes." The newspaper man looked him over with a swift, trained

    attention. "A young lady would like to see you for a few minutes. She is

    interested in this shanghaing of Mr. Farnum." Dunn's black gimlet eyes searched Beauchamp's face. "All right. Glad to see her." Dunn's story was being transferred to his

    pocket as he rose.

    He followed his guide to the ladies' writing room. A slender young woman was standing in front of the bookcase. She turned as they entered. Beauchamp introduced the reporter to her, but Dunn failed to catch the name of this rather remarkable looking young lady.

    "You are to write the story of Mr. Farnum's adventure?" she asked.The reporter's eyes narrowed very slightly. "What story?""The account of the shanghaing. Oh, I know all about it. Have you all

    the facts?" "I'll be glad to hear what you know, Miss——" She answered his hesitation by mentioning her name. Dunn grew more wary. "Miss Alice Frome, daughter of Senator

    Frome?" "Yes." "Anything you have to say I'll be pleased to hear, Miss Frome." To his surprise she broke through the hedge of reserve he had withdrawn behind.

    "You distrust me. You think because I'm Senator Frome's daughter that I must be against Mr. Farnum. Is that it?"

    "I didn't say that," he sparred.

    "I'm not against him. It's because I'm anxious to see him win that I want to be sure he has given you the whole story."

    "Why shouldn't he give me the whole story?"

    "Because he isn't the kind to boast. Did he tell you about the sharks?"

    "Or how Miss Frome helped pull him aboard just in time to save him from the crimps?"

    The reporter's eyes gleamed. "What's that?" he snapped quickly.

    "And all about the race from the schooner to the _Bellingham,_ It was the most exciting thing I ever saw."

    "Great guns! What's the matter with Jeff Farnum? He didn't say a word about that——missed the cream of the story."

    Alice smiled. "I thought perhaps he might have."

    "He said he saw a chance to swim across to the _Bellingham._ That made a pretty good story. But sharks——and the shanghaiers chasing him-and a young lady helping to haul him aboard to safety——and that young lady Miss Alice Frome! Say, this is the biggest story that ever broke in Verden. If I fall down on it I'm a dead one sure enough."

    "You think it will help Mr. Farnum's fight for his bill?"

    "Help it. Say, I'd give fifty dollars to see James K. Farnum's face when he reads the _World_ tomorrow morning. The town will go right up in the air. Hundreds of telegrams are going to pour in to members of the assembly from their constituents. We'll make a Yale finish of this yet."

    "It's lucky Miss Frome recognized Mr. Farnum. Otherwise I suppose he would have been sent back to the _Nancy Hanks_ ."

    "Oh, Miss Frome recognized him? Jeff said one of the passengers did. He couldn't remember who."

    "I don't suppose my name is necessary to the story. Just say a young woman on board," Alice suggested.

    Dunn's black eyes questioned her. "Are you for us, Miss Frome?" She smiled. "I'm for you."

    "Against Senator Frome and Mr. Powers?"

    "I think the bill ought to be passed. I'm not against anybody."

    "Well, I'll tell you this. It will help the story a lot to have you in it. Some people might say we framed the whole thing up. But with Senator Frome's daughter starring in it."

    "Oh, no, Mr. Farnum's the star."

    "Well, you're the leading lady. Don't you see how it helps? Clinches the whole thing as genuine. It's as good as putting the Senator himself on the stand as a witness for us. We've just got to have you."

    "It will really help, you think?"

    "No question."

    "Very well."

    "And photographs. You'll stand for one, of course."

    "Now really I don't see "

    "They can't get back of a photograph. It carries conviction. Of course we've got pictures of you at the office, Miss Frome. But I want to play fair with you. Besides, I want them to show the ship setting."

    She laughed. "Don't worry. Your enterprising photographer caught me twice before I knew it. And he got one of my cousin, Mrs. Van Tyle. She doesn't know it, though."

    "Good boy, Quillen. Now, if you'll begin at the beginning, Miss Frome, I'll listen to your story.

    When she had finished his eyes were gleaming. "It's the biggest scoop I ever got in on. Sounds too good to be true."

    At Gillam's Point Jeff and his friends, with Dunn and Quillen, left the _Bellingham_ on the launch which brought the pilot. They caught the fast express a half hour later and reached Verden shortly after midnight. His hat drawn down over his eyes and muffied to the ears in an ulster so that he might not be recognized, Farnum took a cab with Captain Chunn, Dunn and Quillen for the office of the World. He slipped into the building and his private room unnoticed by any member of the staff. Dunn presently brought to him Jenkins, the make-up man.

    "Rip your front page to pieces. We've got the story of a life time," Captain Chunn exploded.

    Jenkins opened his eyes and grinned at Jeff. "That's what Jim tells me. Have you got the proof to hang the thing on Big Tim?"

    "I've got a letter he wrote to Captain Green of the_Nancy Hanks_ . It's on city hall stationery of the last administration."

    "Funny he used that paper."

    "Someone usually makes a slip in putting a deal of this kind through."

    "And the letter?"

    "Just a line, signed with O'Brien's initials. 'The terms agreed on are satisfactory.' I found the letter in Green's cabin. As I thought I might make use of it I helped myself."

    "Bully! We'll run a fac-simile of it on the front page."

    "Dunn's story covers the whole affair. I don't like some features of it, but our friends say it ought to be run as it stands. I've written three columns of editorial stuff dealing with the situation. And here's a story calling for a mass meeting in front of the State House to-morrow morning."

    "You'll speak to the people?"

    "I'll say a few words. Hardy and Rawson will be the speakers."

    "Pity we've lost your cousin. He'd stir them up."

    The muscles stood out on Jeff's lean jaw. James was a subject he could not yet discuss. "We're nailing the No Compromise flag to our masthead, Jenkins. We've got to prevent them from forcing through Garman's bill tomorrow. After that every day will be in our favor. Unless I'm mistaken the state will waken up as it never has before. The people will see how nearly they've been euchred out of what they want."

    Jenkins came bluntly to another point. "This story would carry a lot more weight if those charges made against your character by the other papers had been answered."

    "Then we'll answer them."

    The night editor looked at him dubiously. "They've got four affidavits to back their story." "Only four?" A gay smile was dancing in Jeff's eyes.

    "Both the _Herald_ and the _Advocate_ have been playing it strong. Every day they rehash the story and challenge a denial."

    "It will all be free advertising for us if we can make them eat crow."

    "If we can!" Jenkins did not see how any effective answer was possible and he knew that in the present state of public opinion an unsupported bluff would be fatal.

    "How would this do for a starter?"

    Jeff handed him two typewritten sheets. The night editor read them through. He looked straight at Jeff.

    "Can you back this up?"

    "I can."

    "But——what about those affidavits?"

    Farnum grinned. "We'll take care of them when we come to them."

    "It's your funeral," Jenkins admitted.

    The whole front page of the _World_ next morning was filled with the Farnum story. As of it there were interviews with Alice Frome, with Captain Barclay, and with other passengers. The deadly note from O'Brien to Green of the _Nancy Hanks_ occupied the place usually held by the cartoon. Beneath it, exactly in the center of the page, was a leaded box with the caption "A Challenge." It ran as follows:

    The editor of the _World_ does not think his reputation important enough to protect it at the expense of a woman. Yet he denies absolutely the import of the charges made by the _Herald_ and the _Advocate._ That the matter may be forever set at rest the _World_ challenges the papers named to a searching investigation. It proposes:

    () That the names of five representative citizens of Verden be submitted to Governor Hawley by each of the three papers, and that from this number be select a committee of five to sift thoroughly the allegations; () That the meetings of the committee be held in secret, no members of the press being admitted, and that those composing it pledge themselves never to divulge the names of any witnesses who may appear to give evidence;() That the _Herald,_ the _Advocate,_ and the _World_ severally agree to print on the front page for a week the findings of the committee as soon as received and exactly as received, without any editorial or other comment whatsoever. By the decision of this committee Jefferson Farnum pledges himself to abide. If found guilty, he will at once resign from the editorial charge of the _World_ and will leave Verden forever.

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